Brother's mistake and father's love drive Panthers RB Mike Davis

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis isn’t one to spike the football after a touchdown. He usually drops it to the ground with his right arm, and then stands with his arms on his hips or crossed while teammates congratulate him.

Occasionally, he’ll dance.

Or as was the case a few years ago after a 17-yard touchdown run for the Seattle Seahawks, he pretended the ball was a pillow and curled up with it in the end zone like he was going to sleep.

So when the Carolina Panthers running back pulled back his right arm and drilled the ball into the turf after his 13-yard, second-quarter touchdown in Sunday’s 21-16 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers, his older brother took notice.

“That was a little different," James Davis said. “That comes from a lot of joy."

And sadness.

The joy was from the decision a few years ago not to make the same mistake his brother did in in 2011, when James gave up on his NFL career because he wasn’t getting the playing time he believed he deserved.

The sadness came from missing his father, who died of prostate cancer just over a year ago, on Sept. 25, 2019.

After the game, Davis posted a video of the 13-yard screen pass from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on social media and summed up his feelings with the caption: “I know my dad is proud."

“It was tough for him," James said of Mike losing his dad, Michael Oliver. “It was the first time I’d ever seen my brother cry."

Mike fought back some tears on Sunday as he talked about helping the Panthers (1-2) end a 10-game losing streak in his first start in the place of star running back Christian McCaffrey, who is out four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain.

Mike wishes his father could have seen him again wearing No. 28, as he did at the University of South Carolina, instead of Nos. 20, 22, 25, 27 and 39, which he wore in NFL stops with San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago.

He wishes his father were alive to make the short drive from Atlanta for Sunday’s home game against Arizona (2-1).

“I'm trying not to tear up,” Mike said on a postgame Zoom call. “I just loved my dad so much and I think it's crazy he went away.”

Because of James, Davis didn’t let pride take football away from him. He learned from his brother’s mistake of getting into an argument with then-Washington coach Mike Shanahan over his spot on the depth chart and leaving training camp without explanation.

James never played in an NFL game again despite spending brief time on the practice squads at Houston and Detroit.

“It could have been so easy for me to give up when I was in Seattle on the practice squad [in 2017],” Mike said. “It was real depressing and there were times when I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this no more.’ “

Mike also didn’t want to have regrets like his brother, who is now an athletic director for a youth recreation center in Atlanta.

“I don’t think ever giving up all the way crossed his mind because he did have me as an example,” James said. “I would never let him think that way. I’m always pushing him. I know he’s a good player. He just needs to get the right opportunity.”

Davis took advantage of his first opportunity with McCaffrey sidelined, rushing 13 times for 46 yards and catching eight passes for 45 yards and the touchdown against the Chargers.

He wasn’t as spectacular as McCaffrey, one of the best all-purpose backs in the NFL. But he was steady and made running backs coach Jeff Nixon look good for lobbying to keep Davis on the roster after head coach Matt Rhule was hired in January.

“He played well,” said James, 34, who is seven years older than Mike. “Repetition is going to be key. You’ve got to get reps with the O-line to figure out what you need to do.”

James, who finished his college career fourth in Clemson history in all-purpose yards (4,309), has been coaching Mike from afar for years. They talk almost every day, and James doesn’t hesitate to offer criticism or praise.

Mike listens because he respects his brother’s opinion.

“He was very talented, and he should have had more years than he did,” Mike said.

James regrets his decision at Washington. He wishes he stuck it out to get the opportunity Mike is getting now.

“I didn’t have anybody to talk to like Mike has had with me,” James said. “This has been like a life lesson for Mike.”

Beyond his brother, Mike drew motivation from an Eric Thomas motivational video featuring his “You Owe You" speech. He watched it every morning while struggling with playing time in Seattle.

In the video, Thomas says, “You can’t make me want what I don’t want.”

What Davis ultimately realized was he wanted was to play football regardless of his role.

“What stands out most is I never gave up,” Mike said.

Mike’s new teammates appreciate his story of perseverance, as well as what he can do for them on the field.

“Mike is a cool dude, man,” Bridgewater said. “He’s a true pro. He comes to work every day with the right mindset.”

Mike’s brother was a part of that mindset. His dad was a part of that mindset.

And everything it took to get that mindset came pouring out in the spike.

“Man, how do I explain this?” Mike said. “My dad was my biggest fan. I know that he wanted to see me play and go out there and do my thing.”